Why does a mussel look the way it does?

26 February 2011

Location: Dorothea Bate Room, The Natural History Museum, London, UK

Event description

Alexandra Zieritz (Technical University Munich-Weihenstephan) Why does a mussel look the way it does? Unravelling pheno- and genotypic patterns in freshwater mussels using modern genetic and morphometric techniques

Talk abstract - Freshwater mussels (Unionoida) show high intraspecific morphological variability, and some shell morphological traits are believed to be associated with habitat conditions. The factors triggering such intraspecific trends in unionoid shell morphology are still poorly understood, and it is not known whether and which ecophenotypic differences reflect underlying genetic differentiation or are the result of plasticity of the phenotype. A good understanding of pheno- and genotypic patterns within species and the mechanisms involved is a key requirement for resolving open questions on unionoid systematics and taxonomy. Identifying which habitat parameters certain trends in shell morphology are associated with can additionally help in reconstructing optimal habitats of endangered species and (palaeo)environments.

This study investigated morphological and genetic patterns between three paired Unio pictorum populations sampled from two different habitat types (marina and river) along the River Thames. A modern morphometric method (Fourier shape analysis) elucidated differences in shell morphology that were consistently associated with the different hydrological characters of the two habitats. These intraspecific ecophenotypic trends may thus have broad ecological significance and considerable utility to palaeontologists and conservation biologists. On the other hand, no consistent genetic differences in 103 amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers were found between populations of the two different habitat types, suggesting that pronounced intraspecific differences in shell morphology were caused by phenotypic plasticity. Genetic trends in U. pictorum populations along the River Thames were, however, consistent with a pattern of isolation by distance and probably reflect limited dispersal via host fish species upon which unionoid larvae are obligate parasites. The study provides the first molecular evidence for phenotypic plasticity of shell shape in a European unionoid and illustrates the need to include genetic data in order properly to interpret geographic patterns of morphological variation.

This event is organised by the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Amateur Entomologists' Society members are also eligible to attend.

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Organisation details

This event was not organised by the AES. Please contact the event organiser if you have any queries.

Event organiser: Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland

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